A ketogenic diet focuses on supplying the body with dietary fats as a source of energy versus relying upon high amounts of carbohydrates. This type of diet can provide certain therapeutic benefits.
Many pet parents are unaware of the therapeutic benefits that ketogenic diets can provide to a pet who is fighting cancer or suffering with epilepsy. There are many ways to feed a ketogenic diet – including raw or cooked. Additionally, a keto diet can be home prepared or commercially purchased.
Epilepsy & Cancer
The ketogenic diet shines as a beneficial and therapeutic option for two major diseases – Epilepsy and Cancer. Each of these diseases are unique in their medical treatment protocols. A ketogenic diet will not reverse or cure these diseases; however, it is a useful tool to improve the quality of life in conjunction with medical treatment.
Canine & Feline Epilepsy
Epilepsy in pets and humans is a neurological disease involving seizures which are caused by a surge of uncontrolled and abnormal brain activity. Seizures can be debilitating and potentially life threatening. Symptoms can range from barely noticeable signs such as twitching, rapid blinking, staring into space (Petit Mal or Focal seizures); to more dramatic effects such as loss of consciousness and muscle or body jerks and spasms (Grand Mal seizures).
Ketogenic diets have been used in humans to help control intractable epilepsy since the 1920s. Intractable epilepsy refers to seizure activity that is resistant or not fully controlled by medications. A ketogenic diet can be used in pets with epilepsy with similar results to humans, although the diet is not intended to replace medications.
The Cancer Epidemic
Unfortunately, cancer is the leading cause of death in pets. Both humans and pets can suffer from similar types of cancer. According to the Veterinary Cancer Society, there are up to 100 types of animal cancer, which include skin, head and neck, bone, lymphoma, and abdominal tumors. The words “tumor” or “mass” are commonly used when referring to the appearance of a neoplasm.
Neoplasms can either be benign or malignant. With benign neoplasms, this means the neoplasms are not spreading throughout the body and are growing at a slow pace. However, malignant neoplasms grow rapidly and unpredictably and spread throughout the entire body. Malignant neoplasms are truly the only type that is cancerous.
Cancer cells can feed and grow with a diet high in sugar (glucose). Eliminating sugar from the diet has been observed as beneficial when feeding a pet with cancer. Commercialized dry and canned pet food is very high in sugar (provided through high amounts of carbohydrates) whereas a home prepared diet can easily eliminate the inclusion of carbohydrates.
Ketogenic Diet Overview
Even a traditional homemade diet that is low in carbohydrates is an improvement for pets with cancer or epilepsy. However, a homemade diet can be specialized to be ketogenic. This provides dietary support to aid in the reduction of seizure occurrence and to slow the progression of tumor growth.
A ketogenic diet, or keto for short, is high in fat, moderate in protein, and provides 0% to 1% carbohydrates on an As Fed basis. The goal of a keto diet is to switch the body’s natural energy source from carbohydrates to fatty acids. This diet works because the growth rate of certain cancerous tumors slows down when the glucose supply is eliminated and the body is provided with fatty acids instead. The science behind this feeding regime in conjunction with medical treatment is new but shows great promise for improving the quality of life in both humans and dogs.
The Keto diet is named for the ketones that the body produces when relying exclusively on fatty acids as an energy source. Ketones are an alternative fuel source for the body that is metabolized in the liver from the breakdown of fatty acids. They are used as an energy source throughout the body, including within the brain, when blood sugar (glucose) is in short supply.
Benefits for Epilepsy
The effectiveness of ketogenic diets for reducing and controlling seizure activity has been well observed in humans. However, scientific understanding of how the diet works to accomplish this is incomplete. There are several theories:
Benefits for Cancer
Otto Warburg was a cell biologist who led to the discovery that cancer cells use energy from glucose fermentation and are unable to flourish with energy from cellular respiration. Dr. Thomas Seyfried and other cancer researchers agree, and have further discovered that cancer cells are also fueled from the fermentation of the amino acid glutamine.
Cancer cells are unlike normal cells in many ways, but one of their unique traits regards their insulin receptors. They have ten times more insulin receptors on their surface than normal cells. This enables cancer cells to gorge themselves on glucose and nutrients coming from the bloodstream at a very high rate. When starchy carbohydrates (glucose) is consumed as the primary energy source, cancer cells can continue to thrive and spread. It is no surprise that the lowest survival rate in cancer patients is among those with the highest blood sugar levels.
Carnivores like dogs and cats are equipped to digest and metabolize fat into energy. When fat is used as the primary energy source to create a state of ketosis, cancer cells are essentially “starved” while normal cells are not. A raw diet naturally lends itself well to creating a ketogenic diet. The ratio of fat to protein in ketogenic diets depends on the type of keto that is being formulated.
Types of Ketogenic Diets
There are multiple types of ketogenic diets. However, the consistent factor is that each ketogenic diet is higher in fat in comparison to traditional homemade diets. Each ketogenic diet provides their own benefits that can be utilized in a therapeutic diet protocol.
Ketogenic Diet Selection
The type of keto diet to choose depends on the stage of disease and the approach to therapy. There are several factors to consider when choosing a keto diet:
The recommended macronutrients for ketogenic diets can be achieved by feeding ingredients found at local supermarkets. It is ideal to select pasture-raised or wild game ingredients when possible. The difference between grass-fed livestock and wild game in contrast to factory-farmed livestock is in the amount of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids found within their meat. Grass-fed and wild game have more omega-3 essential fatty acids compared to omega-6 fatty acids which help fight against inflammation.
However, it is not required to use pasture-raised or wild game meats in a raw keto diet. Fatty acids in ketogenic diets that rely upon factory farmed meat can be balanced with the inclusion of fish oil. Any fats or fatty meats fed to pets should always be given raw or cold pressed and never cooked or rendered.
The primary source of energy and calories in keto diets are from fat. There are three different types of fats including monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and saturated fats. Rotating fat sources is recommended to prevent the dog or cat from developing a taste aversion to one particular fat source.
Pure fat sources are ideal to use to fulfill the fat macro recommendations. Animal-based fats, such as pork belly and jowls, provide high amounts of fat but also include small amounts of protein. Plant-based fats, such as nuts and seeds, provide healthy fats in addition to carbohydrates.
Moderating protein in ketogenic raw diets is important. Fatty cuts of meat are ideal for keto raw diets to moderate protein levels. Ground meat products are often used because the meat and fat are evenly distributed. However, whole meats can be fed. Higher fat muscle meats are ideal in keto diets. If lean proteins are used then adding additional fats will be necessary.
Organs can be used to contribute to the protein macro recommendations as well as provide beneficial vitamins and minerals. However, organs are high in protein and low in fat and should be fed in small amounts not to overdo protein.
A low amount of net carbohydrates is required in a keto raw diet. Vegetables that are high in fiber, such as leafy greens, are beneficial for their phytonutrients and are low in net carbohydrates. Higher amounts of leafy greens are required to fulfill carbohydrate recommendations. Combining high-fiber vegetables with moderate-fiber vegetables is beneficial in these instances.
Professional Guidance Recommended
It is recommended to seek the guidance of a certified nutritionist when feeding any therapeutic diet for medical needs. The keto ingredients listed will not automatically create a ketogenic diet without careful calculations. Additionally, high fat diets can result in unexpected nutrient deficiencies that are beyond the well known nutritional gaps in raw diets. Hiring a nutritionist to provide guidance on balancing a ketogenic diet is ideal.
Therapeutic Custom Meal Plans & Therapeutic Phone Consultations
Learn more about our Therapeutic Custom Meal Plans for dogs and cats with medical conditions that require diet adjustments, or speak directly with our lead nutritionist, Ronny LeJeune, and receive 1 custom balanced recipe when you opt for our Therapeutic Phone Consultation.
A diagnosis of epilepsy or cancer is life changing. Feeding a keto diet can be beneficial as one component in the treatment protocol. In order to create a home prepared keto diet, the recommended amounts for calories, fat, protein, and carbohydrates need to be carefully calculated.
There are multiple components of a home prepared ketogenic diet that must be considered:
Although ketogenic diets provide therapeutic benefits to assist in ongoing treatment, they are not a cure for epilepsy or cancer. It is essential to work with a veterinary oncologist on a treatment plan when a pet is diagnosed with cancer. Additionally, ongoing medication for seizure control must be continued under the guidance of a veterinarian for pets with epilepsy.